Touched by tragedy

Loss of loved ones brings Colts closer, puts game in perspective

February 03, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

MIAMI -- Flying down to the Super Bowl, Indianapolis linebacker Gary Brackett was looking at old photos on his digital camera.

He saw the faces of his mother, father and brother, putting the biggest game of his career in poignant perspective.

Brackett lost all three family members in a matter of 21 months.

"Not having them here is kind of tough, but I think they're going to be in the house," Brackett said. "I think they are still looking down on me from above."

The Indianapolis Colts' journey to the Super Bowl is not solely about the wins. It's about how they have bonded through loss.

From 2003 to 2005, Brackett's father, Granville, 55, died of heart failure; his mother, Sandra, 51, passed away after suffering a stroke following a hysterectomy; and his brother, Greg, 29, died of leukemia.

Thirteen months ago, coach Tony Dungy's son James committed suicide.

And in September, the brother of Reggie Wayne, Rashad Wayne, was killed in an auto accident.

"It's not about words but actions," Brackett said. "It's what we do for each other during these times that makes this team close."

How the Colts handle tragedy comes from Dungy, who talks to players about his strong Christian faith.

"I tell guys all the time they're not immune to it, they're going to have problems," Dungy said. "It's how you get through them that's important. That's how I was raised, and I'm glad I was raised that way."

Dungy isn't just saying the words; he's lived them.

It was only last year when his 18-year-old son, the oldest of six children, hanged himself in his apartment in Lutz, Fla. Earlier that year, he had been treated for a prescription drug overdose.

Dungy often has sidestepped questions about the suicide, but he addressed the tragedy this week when asked whether he knew he was going to be OK after his son's death.

"I still don't know that I'm going to be OK," Dungy said. "It was never anything that all of a sudden things flashed. It was just the time to move forward."

Dungy's strength helped Wayne cope with the death of his older brother during the season.

Rashad Wayne, 32, was killed when the delivery truck he was driving crashed into a highway guardrail in Kenner, La.

"Obviously, he experienced a lot that I experienced," Wayne said of his coach. "You are in a situation in your life when you are at the lowest point, and just to hear from somebody that has actually been through it, it helps you out a lot. Coach Dungy is a strong man, a strong soul, so he knows exactly what's going on. Just giving me some advice was huge for me."

Wayne immediately flew home for a few days to help his family.

Not only did Dungy make sure the Colts could get to the funeral, but he also spoke to Wayne every day he was gone from the team.

"The thing I told Reggie is you have to enjoy the memories of the time you had and to know they would want you to continue on with excellence," Dungy said. "Reggie has been a great player for a long time, but he has been under the radar. He had such a great year for us and the way he handled everything was special, because you knew he was playing for something more."

Dungy, team president Bill Polian, and several teammates flew to Louisiana during the season to attend the funeral.

"It's always more than us as a team," Wayne said. "All those guys in the locker room are like my brothers. We've been grinding since March. Some guys, I've been grinding with for five or six years. It's a family in there. It's more than a team."

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